An international body of Assyrians has written letters to President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden asking them to support the creation of an autonomous region for Assyrian Christians and other religious minorities suffering from severe persecution because of their faith.
The Assyrian Universal Alliance pointed to the series of murders in the northern Iraq city of Mosul in October that drove more than 15,000 Iraqi Christians from their homes within the short time span of two weeks.
Mosul is the “heart of Assyrian ancestral lands,” the group noted.
“With so many Assyrians having fled Iraq, the very survival of the Assyrian nation hangs in the balance,” the AUA writes in its letter to President Obama, which was published Tuesday on the Assyrian Times Web site.
“Our numbers are dwindling and our communities are being shattered. Should this continue, the world will witness the demise of one of its most ancient and historically significant nations,” it warns.
Last fall, 13 Iraqi Christians were killed within four weeks, including three within 24 hours, according to the Assyrian International News Agency.
The surge in attacks against Assyrian Christians in Mosul caused the mass and unplanned exodus of the endangered population. It was later reported by church and aid agencies that many of the Christians had fled with only the clothes on their backs and were in desperate need of humanitarian aid.
Since the U.S.-led Iraq war in 2003, more than 200 Christians have been killed, dozens of churches were bombed, and more than half of the Iraqi Christian population left the country.
According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, although Christians make up only three percent of Iraq’s population, they account for nearly half of the refugees leaving Iraq.
Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako, the most senior Catholic cleric in Iraq, warned last October after the string of murders that Christians in Iraq face “liquidation” if the Iraqi government and the U.S. military do not step up to protect the religious minority group.
Assyrian Christians often note that they are Iraq’s indigenous people, tracing their roots back to Babylonian times, and have the right to remain and live in peace in Iraq.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has urged the U.S. government to take decisive action to allow Iraqi refugees to resettle with greater ease in the United States. Some of the Commission’s officers have also publicly supported the formation of an autonomous state for Iraq’s Christian population in northern Nineveh Plain – the ancestral homeland of Iraq’s Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians – where religious minorities can live and work without persecution.
“We appeal to you to urge the Iraqi government to agree to the essential institution of an Assyrian Autonomous Region in the historical and ancestral Assyrian lands in Northern Iraq as part of modern day Iraq,” the AUA plead in their letter to Obama.
The autonomous region would be administered and protected by Assyrians, but still be under the jurisdiction of Iraq’s central government. The self-governed region is “crucial to the security and survival” of Assyrian Christians in Iraq, and will also encourage Assyrian refugees in Iraq and elsewhere to return to the country, the Assyrian body says.
The AUA concludes, “We eagerly await your leadership in promoting the establishment of this Assyrian Autonomous Region and thank you again for your continuing campaign to ensure the survival of one of world's most ancient nations.”